Monday, December 14, 2009

System thinking – 1

One concept that always fascinated me is the whole-parts thing. How the parts become a whole and how you can dissemble the whole into parts.

System thinking is just a thing about it. Usually, when we try to analize some system, we break it into parts and try to understand each part. Once this is done, we hope to understand how the whole thing is working together. However, there are times where breaking into parts misleads.

This is where System Thinking is coming into play (bing for it). It says that sometimes you better off thinking hollistically instead of zooming in as much as possible.

This is an example from software development.

Sometimes it seems that every fixed bug causes 5 regression bugs. In this case the most common response is to make more checks on the code before check-in. this is how it looks graphically:

 

systemthinking_regressionBugs_small_small

What it means is that when "Regression bugs" raise, the process increases. Notice the "+" on the arrow from bugs to process circle. Now, this is something that we decide.

An arrow from process to bugs is something that we anticipate. The arrow is marked with "-" meaning that when process increases we anticipate that the number of regression bugs goes down. Notice that the number of "-" signs on this loop is odd, meaning that this is a balancing loop. Or in other words, it will stabilize itself.

This is "divide and conquer" approach.

However, from experience it is not always works out like this. Thus, if we turn to hollistic system thinking we get another picture:

systemthinking_regressionBugs_big_small

This picture introduces another feedback loop. The new loop has 2 (even) "-" arrows in it. This means that this is reinforcing loop and it can go wild.

Clearly, this is a simplified view of the process, but even in this simplified view there are two loops that battle one another.

If reinforcing loop wins, then introducing more process wil not make the situation better. In this situation, it is probably better to educate people to fight off this loop.

to be continued ...

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